Six months after he took office promising to transform The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Federation President Jay Sanderson is implementing changes he said will dramatically increase Federation’s efficacy in caring for those in need and building Jewish connection.
“When I took the job, one of the things that I knew was that we needed to tell our story more effectively, and what we’ve learned in the past six months is that we need a more effective story to tell,” Sanderson said.
“The model of the Federation as an umbrella is gone,” he said. “The community doesn’t need an umbrella. What the community needs is a hub, a center, and you can only be a center if you are appealing to everybody, which means you have to work with everybody.”
Last month, Sanderson presented to The Federation board a plan that would alter both how Federation raises money and how it invests the money it raises. The board is expected to vote on the restructuring later this month and meanwhile has expressed support for Sanderson’s direction.
Sanderson said he and Federation chairman Richard Sandler spent the last several months meeting with community leaders and members to identify what those outside and inside the organization believe Federation’s role can be.
Sanderson and Sandler concluded Federation should focus its resources and leverage on three priorities: caring for Jews in need, ensuring the Jewish future and engaging the wider community.
By strategizing around these three areas, Sanderson believes Federation can coordinate community efforts for greater impact and at the same time broaden Federation’s base of donors.
Engaging the community, for instance — through volunteerism, social justice advocacy and serving the wider Los Angeles and world community — is known to appeal particularly to the younger generation, and Sanderson said refocusing Federation on those efforts can bring people in.
At the same time, a major priority always has been helping Jews in need — in Los Angeles, Israel and around the world — through programs that address and fight poverty, serve the elderly and provide more resources for people with special needs.
Sanderson said he is particularly excited about the focus on ensuring the Jewish future, which will encompass all formal and informal education, create a deeper relationship with synagogues, nurture Israel-Diaspora relations and coordinate leadership development.
“One of the most pressing needs is the accessibility and affordability of Jewish life, and nobody is addressing this, no organization or individual,” he said. “Every conversation eventually comes to that. And we believe as a Federation that is something we should be focused on.”
Sanderson is also convening an Israel Advisory and Oversight Committee.
“They will work with me and Richard Sandler on formulating our philanthropic strategy in Israel, evaluating Israel’s needs and our work there in accordance with our strategic priorities,” Sanderson said. “The goal is to greatly enhance our deep commitment in Israel.”
To crystallize and achieve communal goals, Sanderson has already begun to convene different organizations with overlapping agendas to brainstorm about how the community can best use its resources.
“Two weeks ago, three agencies came in and said, ‘We want to partner with you.’ But all of them meant the same thing. They wanted us to give them money,” Sanderson said.
“In the past we’ve written a check and walked away, or been way too involved in some places. We need to end up in a place where people we fund see us as partners,” he said.
Rather than having organizations come before a Federation committee to sell a program, Federation will convene roundtables of people interested in common issues to devise broader strategies, he said.
“We’re one of the most serious investors in Birthright in the country, and we want to make sure the alumni’s Jewish life doesn’t end with their Birthright experience,” Sanderson said. “So we’re going to bring together all the organizations, traditional and nontraditional, to figure out how we can collaborate and partner. Instead of funding this or that program, we’re going to say ‘How can we partner in a meaningful way so we can create a communitywide effort to deal with this issue.’ ”
Instead of giving many small grants, Sanderson would like to see greater sums go to fewer organizations.
“In the past we’ve given money to hundreds of organizations, and it will definitely be fewer going forward,” Sanderson said. “We want to do more meaningful things in specific areas, and you can’t do meaningful work when you give everyone $10,000. We’ve made a lot of investments that have been positive, but they may not have moved the dial.”
He said that organizations will no longer be able to count on history as a guide for allocations.
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